Archive for Chasmanthium latifolium

Your Native Woodland: If You Build It They Will Come

Posted in Fall Color, groundcover, landscape design, native plants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2012 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Virginia bluebells and Celandine poppy in my woodland

Well you might have to plant a few first.  What am I talking about?  How to create your very own woodland filled with native plants.  I have written before about how important native plants are to our survival.  To read about it, click here.  Now I am going to tell you how to create a shade garden in which mid-Atlantic native plants thrive and multiply with abandon.

Note: There is a Part 2 with more suggestions, click here.

my native woods

It is really quite simple.  All you do is take one woodland area, mix with generous amounts of compost, add the appropriate native plants, and wait a few years.  The key is knowing which plants to use.

I started with the worst possible soil in the worst possible conditions.  Not only were the beds composed of the hard baked clay and rocks prevalent in our area, but they were filled with roots from 100-year-old London plane and—hold onto your hats—black walnut trees.  Add to that, years of trash, including roofing slate and coal furnace shovelings, dumped in the woods before municipal collection came along and construction debris from the 1960s.

Nature does not dot the landscape with precious collectibles but  “designs” with large sweeps of single types of plants, and that is what I have done in my woods  To create a woodland like mine, all you do is plant at least five but preferably seven and ideally nine of the plants profiled below in beds amended with generous amounts of compost, mulch heavily with ground leaves, and stand back and wait.  Really….that’s what you do….it works.


I wanted to recommend six plants, but when it came down to slimming the competition, I had to go with nine: seven spring-blooming and two fall-blooming.  All are native to the mid-Atlantic and Pennsylvania and all seed freely in a woodland setting once they get going.  And the winners are:

Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica: porcelain blue flowers top blue-green leaves in March and April, goes dormant when hot.  All my plants came from one plant given to me by a friend.


Celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum: lovely filigreed leaves are covered with large bright yellow flowers in April and May.  Again, all my plants came from one plant given to me by a friend.

Dwarf Jacob’s ladder, Polemonium reptans: wintergreen fern-like leaves are followed in April and May by copious blue bell-shaped flowers replaced by ornamental chartreuse seedpods.


White violets, Viola striata: white flowers in April and May.  All my plants came from one clump dug from my woods.


Blue creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera ‘Blue Ridge’: wintergreen mat of foliage is topped with blue flowers in April and May.


Creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera ‘Sherwood Purple’: creeping phlox comes in blue, purple, white, and pink.  The purple is the most vigorous.


Native ginger, Asarum canadense: the reddish purple flowers appear below the leaves.


Golden groundsel, Senecio aureus: the wintergreen leaves are topped by attractive purple buds in March followed by fragrant yellow flowers in April and May.  This vigorous spreader is a great native substitute for vinca, pachysandra, and ivy.

Blue wood aster, Aster cordifolius: the leaves of blue wood aster completely cover the ground in the spring.


Blue wood aster is covered with flowers in October and November.

Northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium: pendulous oat-like flowers grace this native shade grass in October and November.  The foliage ages to a lovely khaki color that remains ornamental through winter.

The flowers of northern sea oats in the slanted light of fall.

As the spreading, woodland plants profiled above establish themselves, you can add pockets of other special natives like trilliums, jack-in-the-pulpits, mayapples, bloodroot, and ferns.  The result is magical.


Facebook:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens now has a Facebook page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post.  You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Nursery Happenings: My Native Wildflower Weekend will take place Friday, April 6, from 10 am to 4 pm, and Saturday, April 7, from 10 am to 2 pm.  Look for an email listing the native plants available if you are on my customer email list.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

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